20 Best Songs of 2010

December 13, 2010

A reminder like I post each year I do this that I pick the 20 songs without counting any from albums that make my “top 10 albums of the year” list. This allows me to feature more music than I’d otherwise be able to on such limited lists, and most often if an album makes the cut there are many songs of note present on it. Also, some of these are singles, some are album cuts that I found to be album highlights. Enjoy (I hope).


20) Write About Love – Belle & Sebastian featuring Carey Mulligan

This song may be entirely too cute or pretentious for many listeners but I found everything about it amusing, and though nerdy, charmingly so. Belle and Sebastian quite often make soft-spoken depressing songs, but here we have an upbeat pop tune with actress Carey Mulligan (“An Education”) trading harmonies and verses with them about a young woman who hates her job and spends her lunch breaks on the rooftop of her office writing romance pieces (songs, poems, screenplays?) including descriptions of her dream guy (“he’s intellectual and he’s hot, but he understands”). This song bounces around and sounds like it came from an an indie band that was transported back to 1960s era London. It’s pop, mod, hippy, glam, folky, dancey, charming.

19) Drink the Kool-Aid – Ice Cube

I didn’t know Cube had such a good hardcore record in him anymore. Much of “I Am the West” is solid, even though he admits he’s “doing this for my kids” (“It is What it Is”), this one’s likely the highlight–the best west-coast gangsta rap in years, better than much of it was in its limelight. “Step up to the alter” and Cube’ll make you “drink the &*&^ kool aid.”

18) Tennessee Me – The Secret Sisters

The Secret Sisters debuted with a soft album that covered classic country, folk, and Sinatra in a fresh yet classical-traditional manner (I’m catching onto a theme here–a lot of great indie work this year stretched back to older periods of influence). Interspersed on their wonderful self-titled debut were original numbers of their own, including this beauty which sounds like it came from the golden age of country radio; the girls do dual-harmony and understated rhythms that are terrific. If you’re on the fence about their album, it was produced by T Bone Burnett and got the early support and help of Jack White of the White Stripes; both of these factors should clue you into whether its your sort of thing or not. Though very throwback style, it was likely my favorite country album of the year not counting Justin Townes Earle’s “Harlem River Blues.”

17) The Promise – Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Springsteen is an artist that stockpiles material that most others would throw on the record; in the course of making each album, he and the band will often cut dozens of songs and cull the tracks down to make sure that the final album is lyrically and musically cohesive to present the mood and theme he means to do with that particular album. This gave his fans a wonderful 4 disc box-set about 15 years ago, and this year to celebrate the remastered release of 1978’s “Darkness on the Edge of T0wn,” he released some excellent concerts, a documentary, the rough-penned lyrics of that record, and two-discs of the material trimmed from the original record. Bruce has had many creative highpoints in his career, but it’s hard to deny that the back to back “Born to Run” and “Darkness” records and the live shows to support each of those albums was the highest of all such points, so a deeper dig into this most fertile of creative periods is excellent. There were several great rock songs on these “Lost Sessions,” but the best is this one, the never before released original studio version of “The Promise.” We got to hear a Bruce and piano version of it on “Tracks,” and it popped up here and there live, but the original studio withe the full E Street Band version is the definitive one and it sounds absolutely terrific despite being a song that is really sad as all get out.

16) No Love – Eminem featuring Lil Wayne

There’s no substance here as far as worthwhile message or moral; there’s just a moderate Weezy verse that mainly works to set up the mood and allow Eminem to show off as the best rhymer in hip hop; Em’ gives us a run of bars that twist and turn and rhyme more syllables in a shorter amount of time than seems possible, he “ignites the stage” and hits the parking lot leaving the crowd roaring. Additional props for taking such a cheeseball nineties dance track and flipping it into a killer beat…

15) Power – Kanye West

When absorbed into “Power” the first time, I was temporarily convinced it was the greatest hip hop song of all time. Kanye has that ability, to overpower you with such intensity and sonic polish to make you think nothing has ever sounded better; though logically you know this is not the case, he can bypass rationality in a listener’s brain to tap directly into sensory and emotional zones…heck, all good pop music aims at doing that. “Power” is over-the-top and better than most hip hop songs this year.

14) How I Got Over – The Roots

I wrote about how the album from which this title track is pulled from came very close to making my top ten album list this year but that it ultimately didn’t. If every song had been as perfect as this one, it certainly would have. A great rap song with a vibrant live studio band backing it (The Roots are phenomenal on the mic and with every instrument they play) giving lyrics that contrast much off-the-cuff rap that tells you not to care about anything–“that type of thinking can’t get you nowhere, someone has to care,” the roots insist.

13) The Show Goes On – Lupe Fiasco

Still no “Lasers” as the year closes out…but word is we finally get it in early spring next year. “I’m Beamin” teased the album early this year, and “The Show Goes On” closes the year out, one of Lupe’s poppiest and best singles yet. The melody is not unlike some of 2Pac’s celebratory work from certain points in his career, but the lyrics are all Lupe; supporting the kids in the ghettos of Detroit, California, Gaza Strip, Haiti and around the world, freshly declaring that he “hopes your son don’t have a gun and never be a d-boy.”

12) Rill Rill – Sleigh Bells

M.I.A. signed this cheerleader noise-pop punk rock mash-up of a band to her own record label and the distortion pushing loudness is likely a factor of their work that appealed to her. There are a lot of uber-catchy hard pop songs on “Treats,” but “Rill Rill” is the standout for me in that the noise is tuned down just enough to let the melodies and vocals really stick this one in your memory and put it on repeat. I’ve read that the lead singer and songwriter taught middle school before joining this group and that these “have a heart,” “what does your boyfriend think about your braces,” etc. lyrics were drawn from her empathy with her students; some have used that to explain that “sixteen, six-six-six and I know the part,” line–it’s not a Slayer invocation (well, unless of the old-school Buffy variety) but a “high school is hell at puberty” motif. Anyway, a song I’ve probably played more than most any other this year, oddly enough.

11) I Should Have Known It – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

I love Tom Petty and was thrilled to get a 3 disc live anthology that thoroughly rocks last year. That made me all the more excited for “Mojo,” the new Heartbreakers record that came out this year, especially from the prerelease hype which promised to give guitarist Mike Campbell free reign to step out from behind his understated glory and really tear into some blues drenched rockers. Ultimately, “Mojo” wasn’t my favorite album. “I Should Have Known It,” the first single from it, is amazing however. Campbell’s great catchy riff is what grabs on, but Petty’s vocals are also great here…and of course the rest of the band is in excellent form.

10) Window Seat – Erykah Badu

Badu is eccentric, to say the least. The video for this song landed her in court for public nudity–it showcased her walking down the street in Dallas where JFK was shot completely naked, mock-shot in the head at the end of it as the word “groupthink” bleeds out of her. No permit was used to approve that filming, so a few hundred dollars extra went into that video I suppose. The song is simple enough and seems unrelated to the video concept. It’s just a smooth r&B track about wishing for a safe flight with a window seat–of course “she needs your attention,” so maybe that’s the tie in because the video certainly got her that! Badu is so immensly talented that she need not resort to anything that seeks attention superficially, though I respect her artistic integrity enough to assume her reasons for treating this song as she did made perfect sense to her at least. Anyway, enjoy the song for what it is which is great.

photo by Pieter M Van from indierockcafe.com

9) Next Girl – The Black Keys

The Black Keys are super talented, and though their albums never contain much in the way of filler, I always end up honing in on a few particular singles of theirs to listen to over and over and never really get to appreciate the rest of the album. “Your Touch” was certainly like that, being a blues-based rock song better than almost anything on the radio last decade and “Next Girl” is the best Keys single since that one. Very enjoyable.

8 ) Wide Eyes – Local Natives

I really love this song. The drumbeat opening, the chord cycling back and forth to build up to nice vocal section and chorus backed by those nice backing chants and refrains. “Oh, to see it with my own eyes.” The middle percussion break and jam session before a perfect last verse just stays with you, those drums really drive this song. “Could it ever be on earth as it is in heaven?” We’re not given an answer or any inclination that they have an opinion, they just leave us with one last frenetic band jam.

7) Free Energy – Free Energy

Free Energy are a fun group. Like Weezer if Weezer was more influenced by the ’70s; actually, FE is more like Thin Lizzy. This is old-school guitar rock, complete with cow-bell, car rides, “Dazed and Confused” evoking weekend nights, pleasantly losing control in the night. One of the best rock songs I heard all year without question. Make it right now, while every “thought is electric.”

6) Fifty Ways to Bleed Your Customer – B Dolan

B Dolan drops the tightest, most jaw-dropping verses I’ve heard in almost any rap song in history. There’s not a wasted word here, everything is so incredibly spot-on and hinged on each other line, a scathing indictment of hyper-capitalism and lost values of modern American culture couched as a “how to” on bleeding your customer to make as much money as possible, i.e. “feed ’em all they meds til they forget what the drugs cost,” “treat the side affects and supply the next disorder, poison the well and bottle the water, if all else fails you start a war up.” Don’t forget the tummy tucks and plus-sized caskets, privatize by the pen or the sword and if the “kids got a problem tell ’em throw up a peace sign,” just make sure the public “works til they can’t breathe, dream or think” and you can bounce to the islands with your money even if you are “bloody,” heck the chorus is a mock celebration of that and the ending verses trace this mentality back for decades and as ignorantly embraced by some in hip hop itself. A fast, furious, perfect rap song.

5) F*** You! – Cee Lo

Only in 2010 could a song with such a blatantly profane song title and chorus actually be an upbeat soul jam with the best pop structure of practically anything else on the radio this year, catchy enough to get  soccer moms singing along with it. Cee Lo has been a hidden genius talent for 10 or fifteen years–his excellent genre encompassing solo albums, his rap career with Goodie Mob and the Dungeon Family, and then finally mainstream and indie attention with Gnarls Barkley. Now he’s got another solo record that settled straight into soul seductive jams that’s really good–but the highlight is this Al Green/Marvin Gaye throwback about being dumped by your girl because she wanted a man with more  money.

4) I Was a Teenage Anarchist – Against Me!

Against Me! release their best song in years criticizing much of the movement that they started in–a punk song rejecting the culture of punk, how punk is that? It’s an adult look back at the “politics of true conveniance,” about having read all the right books and thinking you were in the enlightened and open movement that would make true “revolution” only to have the “sights set” on you, in a scene gone to rigid and realizing the “revolution was a lie.” Rather than being bitter about it all though, it’s a romantic nostalgia about remembering “when you were young and wanted to set the world on fire.” Great chords, passionate vocals, catchy as hell, an excellent song.

3) Candy – Magic Kids

This is bubblegum pop, certainly. Not of the Justin Bieber or old Nsync variety, more like Cheap Trick, the Beach Boys, or some late 60s or 70s post hippie pretty teen rock. It’s just so catchy and subtly smart; very lighthearted and not for everyone I suppose–that girl popping out the accent of “no candy’s sweeter than my baby” in response to the same statement by the lead singer might be sweet as a cavity to some listeners.  But the lush beat, violin framing, background harmonies, and sheer silly romance of the whole thing is too much for me to pass up.

2) You and I Know – Ra Ra Riot

Ra Ra Riot fuses Afro-pop, bookish lyrics, and indie rock in a way not that dissimilar of Vampire Weekend. Weekend and Riot both released solid records this year that were really fun to listen to– I ultimately enjoy “The Orchard” a bit better than “Contra,” but the standout track from it for me was undoubtedly “You and I Know,” a song that lead vocalist Wesley Miles steps down from to let Alexandra Lawn, the cello player, take a lead vocal turn. What results is a gorgeous, encompassing song similar to the best Mazzy Star moments from the early nineties (in fact, “Fade Into You” played back to back with this song might be just too much to take in terms of pop music beauty).

1) Something Better – Lyrics Born featuring Francis and the Lights

This song was my introduction to Lyrics Born; if you read my “Best Albums of 2010” article you know I really dug the debut album from Francis and the Lights. Lyrics Born gave this song away for free around the web to promote his “As U Were” album a few months before it was released. I played this song repeatedly and got LB’s record on release day. It’s a very fun, good record, but this song is still the highlight for me. This was my favorite song of 2010. Lyrics Born lays out 3 verses of excellence–great rhymes, great voice, and fantastic lyrics; hopeful, joyful lyrics about God’s inclusive love for all and against any political or religious voices that might say otherwise, about pulling yourself up and living life as it is meant to be; lyrics that are what need to be heard in many corners of the radio but that aren’t preachy and that don’t keep the song from being incredibly fun and full of funk. Francis croons an irresistible chorus that is just icing on the cake of the best hip hop single of 2010.

Honorable Mentions: Committed – Jenny and Johnny; Enjoy the Silence (cover)- Nada Surf; Hard Times – John Legend featuring the Roots; Unforgettable – Drake featuring Young Jeezy;Run Back to Your Side – Eric Clapton; If It Wasn’t for Bad- Elton John and Leon Russell


One Response to “20 Best Songs of 2010”

  1. dmhamby2 said

    “Something Better” LB f/Francis @andthelights from #ASUWERE voted #1 song of 2010 here: http://tinyurl.com/2a2nlfz Who aint got my LP yet?
    about 19 hours ago via web

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